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Have you ever looked up at the sky and wondered if there were aliens looking down upon you? Have you ever turned your radio to a specific frequency and picked up mysterious signals that appeared to be coming from far away? This phenomenon has been observed by many scientists.
Scientists and researchers have frequently observed strange signals coming from the far-off cosmos.
Are these signals from aliens or is there a more logical and reasonable explanation? Let's find out.
Fast radio bursts and mysterious signals
Astronomers commonly detect what is known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs, as they search for signs of celestial objects. FRBs commonly last only a few thousandths of a second and usually have fairly irregular patterns.
The sources of FRBs are difficult to precisely track down and locate. Since they can come at irregular intervals and from virtually any part of the sky, they take some serious astronomical skill to track down and pinpoint.
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Once astronomers do track down and isolate a given FRB, that's when the fun begins. What may at first appear to be seemingly random bursts of radio-signals, is often found to be regularly-occurring pulses.
Using large and complex radio telescopes, astronomers are able to lock onto specific radio signals and determine their regularity, often anywhere from a few hours to many months.
How researchers specifically isolate FRBs
Astronomers use the radio telescopes to find, measure, and record many of these fast radio bursts.
Radio telescopes have to be absolutely massive to pick up the faint signals coming from various galaxies in the universe. This often means that their dishes are partially fixed in place, allowing the dish to be moved through only a limited angle from the zenith.
For the most part, this is good enough to pick up repeating signals on a regular basis, but it takes a decent degree of luck, and being in the right place at the right time in reference to where the dish is pointing.
Once a repeating FRB is isolated by one telescope, though, astronomers can work together to use other radio telescopes to hone in on the exact source galaxy and learn more about the signal.
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Recent signals from space
Then, last year, a repeating FRB was found by astronomers and tracked back to its source galaxy. This source, however, has proven to be rather interesting.
The source of the signal is a spiral galaxy some 500 million light-years away, which makes it the closest source of FRBs that we have recorded.
The signal itself is coming from a region that is just seven light-years wide. Astronomer Kenzie Nimmo of the University of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, said this about the FRB they found:
"This object's location is radically different from that of not only the previously located repeating FRB but also all previously studied FRBs. This blurs the differences between repeating and non-repeating fast radio bursts. It may be that FRBs are produced in a large zoo of locations across the Universe and just require some specific conditions to be visible."
Astronomers have also begun finding more fast radio bursts that repeat at regular intervals; a strange phenomenon.
The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment telescope, or CHIME, has played a pivotal role in finding many of these repeating FRBs. The CHIME was used to find nine new repeating FRBs in the last year, almost doubling the number of known repeaters found up to that point.
The spiral galaxy where many of these repeating FRBs had their origins was dubbed with the catchy name of SDSS J015800.28+654253.0.
Scientists are still unsure of the causes for the repeating FRBs but are hopeful that the discovery of more FRBs will help shed some light on the mystery.
For now, FRBs will remain mysterious radio waves that propagate from distant galaxies, but we're getting better at finding them, and also determining what's creating them.
Who knows, maybe someday soon we'll get a radio wave signal from outer space that has been deliberately sent and has some type of translatable or discernible pattern. Regardless, the research surrounding FRBs is helping astrophysicists to learn more about the universe.